Atchison, Schoeneweis get the bullpen call
FORT MYERS, Fla. — Scott Atchison has been in Fenway Park once, buying a ticket to watch a game during the summer of 1996 when he was playing for the Wareham Gatemen of the Cape Cod League.
As far as Atchison can recall, he and a few teammates had seats in the grandstand down the first base line.
The 34-year-old righthander will jog out to that first base line Sunday night when he is introduced as a member of the Red Sox. Manager Terry Francona told Atchison yesterday morning that he made the team.
Atchison needed a moment for that to sink in. He has played parts of three seasons in the majors but never left spring camp with a team before.
“When you’ve never made one, until they tell you you’re making it for sure, it’s hard to believe,’’ he said.
The final spot in the bullpen went to lefthander Scott Schoeneweis. That announcement will come today, but team sources said last night that Schoeneweis was chosen ahead of righthander Joe Nelson.
Lefthander Alan Embree, a veteran of the Red Sox’ 2004 championship team, was assigned to the minor league camp and agreed after some thought to report to Pawtucket. Nelson is expected to pitch at Pawtucket as well.
Francona, general manger Theo Epstein, pitching coach John Farrell, and other team executives discussed whether to keep Nelson or Schoeneweis after yesterday’s 5-3 victory over the Twins.
That decision was much tougher than selecting Atchison.
The Sox signed Atchison in early December, a transaction that passed without much notice. But he had been one of the best relievers in Japan, posting a 1.70 ERA in 75 appearances for the Hanshin Tigers last season and allowing only 60 hits over 90 innings.
The Sox originally signed Atchison in 2007 but allowed him out of a minor league deal when the more lucrative opportunity arose overseas.
“We followed him,’’ Epstein said. “[Scouts] Jon Deeble, Craig Shipley, both those guys did a real good job with Atchison. We thought, despite his age and his strange journey, that he could be a useful guy.’’
Atchison sharpened the command of his slider while in Japan, giving him a strong second pitch to go with his cut fastball. His 1.50 ERA in 10 spring appearances only confirmed what the Sox thought all along.
“His regular season started about a month ago, and he knew it,’’ said Francona. “But he did a good job. He attacks the strike zone with all his pitches. I don’t think we see that changing.’’
Embree, who signed March 20, has not pitched well since arriving in camp. But the Sox encouraged him to go to the minors.
“We saw enough fastballs down in the zone, that he drove down in the zone. We know it’s there,’’ Francona said. “In fairness to everybody, it was probably a long shot to have him be ready. I think he knows that.’’
“I’m looking at this as more of a long-term thing,’’ said Embree. “I wouldn’t want to go into the season and be inconsistent and cost them some games. I want to go in and be a contributor. I didn’t look at it negatively at all.’’
Schoeneweis threw a scoreless inning against the Twins, the third game he has pitched for the Sox after being released by Milwaukee and signed to a minor league deal. Nelson allowed two hits but didn’t give up a run in his inning. He has an ERA on 3.38 in 12 appearances.
Nelson and Schoeneweis sat in the clubhouse afterward and joked about the situation.
“I said, ‘I wonder if they’re going walk out like ‘The Bachelor’ and give one of us a rose or something,’ ’’ Nelson said.
Nelson, 35, has faced such a crossroads before.
“It’s not ideal, but most of my career hasn’t really been ideal,’’ he said. “If they made it too easy, then no one would appreciate it. It’s out of my hands. I had a good spring.
“Sometimes I wish I were a dumb player instead of somebody who understood things. Then you can just be mad at somebody. But I don’t have any reason to be. I understand it’s for the long haul.’’
Schoeneweis, 36, is the more accomplished and experienced of the two and has the option to break his contract April 15 if he is not in the majors. Nelson’s option is not until June.
“I’ve enjoyed myself this spring, I really have,’’ said Schoeneweis. “I’ve given everything I have to the game and trying to make the team. I left it all out there and that’s all I can do.’’
Some of these jobs could be as temporary as two weeks. The 12-man staff the Sox bring to Fenway Park will change once Daisuke Matsuzaka and Boof Bonser are ready to come off the disabled list.
“I’m glad I got this opportunity,’’ Atchison said. “Now I need to go do my thing out there and stay here.’’